Steelers need win as main course

December 7, 2013
Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders hopes to be all smiles during today’s matchup with Miami at Heinz Field. - Associated Press

PITTSBURGH – Steelers wide receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders went to dinner with Dolphins counterpart and former teammate Mike Wallace Saturday night, while injured Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey hosted a meal for the Miami offensive line, which includes his brother, Mike.

The Steelers have played gracious hosts to the Dolphins this weekend. They just don’t want that to carry over to today when the teams meet at Heinz Field

The Steelers (5-7) and Dolphins (6-6) need a victory to stay alive in the AFC playoff chase, though certainly Pittsburgh needs a win more than Miami.

The Steelers are looking at this game as if the playoffs have already begun.

“This is our playoff game right here,” said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has 212 career touchdown passes, tying Terry Bradshaw for the most in team history. “I don’t care about the picture right now. It’s just about this week.”

The big picture shows the Dolphins and Ravens tied for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC, with Baltimore currently holding the edge, thanks in part to its 22-20 win over the Steelers Thanksgiving night. The Steelers, along with three other teams, are a game back.

With three of their final four games at home, the Steelers might have the most favorable schedule, not that they are looking that far ahead.

“The reality is, we have enough information to understand that we don’t need to look outside of what we’re doing right here, right now, and that’s preparing to play and defeat the Miami Dolphins,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “That’s where our energy should be.”

Tomlin struggled mightily to keep his team focused on the Dolphins because of the controversy surrounding his own actions against the Ravens. Tomlin was fined $100,000 Wednesday for being too close to the field during a kickoff return.

“We just want to put that behind us and focus on beating the Dolphins,” said Steelers safety Ryan Clark.

Miami will provide some difficult matchups.

The Dolphins have allowed just one touchdown catch by an opposing wide receiver, though they have given up 12 touchdown passes overall, including seven to tight ends.

And Miami’s defensive front, led by lineman Oliver Vernon, who has 10 sacks, and linebacker Cameron Wake, who has 6 1/2, has caused issues for opposing quarterbacks, recording 37 sacks.

The Steelers will be without center Fernando Velasco, who was placed on injured reserve with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, and left tackle Kelvin Beachum, who is doubtful to play after suffering a sprained knee against the Ravens. Cody Wallace will make his first career start at center and Mike Adams, who opened the season at left tackle before being benched after four games, will play in place of Beachum.

“I’ve had a lot of time to work on the small things, technique stuff,” said Adams, who has played extensively as a tight end after his benching as a tackle. “(I’m) looking forward to getting a chance to go out and help the guys.”

Rookie running back Le’Veon Bell and linebacker LaMarr Woodley also will be back in the Steelers lineup. Bell was knocked out of the Baltimore game late in the fourth quarter with a concussion. He has passed all concussion tests and has been cleared to play.

Woodley will return after missing three games with a calf injury. He is expected to start, though he’ll rotate with Jason Worilds, who had four sacks subbing for Woodley at left outside linebacker, and rookie Jarvis Jones.

“It’s just based on how I feel when I get out there,” Woodley said. “You don’t want to fatigue it and re-injure it so we’re going to be smart about it.”

Odds and end zones

If the draft were held today, Pittsburgh would hold the 10th pick. … The Steelers activated tight end Matt Spaeth from injured reserve and released tight end Richard Gordon. Spaeth had been out with a foot injury but was designated to return this season. ... Miami head coach Joe Philbin is a 1984 graduate of Washington & Jefferson College. ... The Steelers have won their past five games against the Dolphins, including the past three at home. ... Bell’s five touchdowns lead all AFC rookies. ... Brown needs six receiving yards to surpass his career high of 1,109 set in 2011. ... Wake needs a half of a sack to become just the fourth Miami player to have 50 in his career.

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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